2022 Director’s Letter

2022 Director's LetterIt may be hard to believe, but COVID-19 has been a part of our lives now for about three years. Those three years have been some of the most challenging for many people in our community—health crises combined with economic turbulence and social disruption have taken a toll. Tacoma Public Utilities as an organization also has undergone its share of challenges and changes as a result of the pandemic, but I’m pleased to say we ended 2022 stronger and ready to deliver on our mission of providing vital services to our community. I’d like to take a moment and reflect on some of our biggest accomplishments of the year.  

Reduced COVID-19 customer arrearages 

Many of our income constrained-customers carried over large utility bill balances during the COVID-19 disconnection moratorium and have struggled to pay down their balances even on installment plans. 

That’s why Tacoma Public Utilities applied for and received more than $14.1 million from the Energy Division of the Washington State Department of Commerce to assist eligible residential customers who still have outstanding COVID-19 utility bill balances on installment plans. We successfully supported customers in post-pandemic recovery and brought past due accounts from a nearly $30 million high to approximately $3.5 million by the end of 2022. 

Improved staff efficiency and emergency response 

We also successfully supported our staff to a hybrid workplace model. As a utility providing services vital to our community’s quality of life, some of our staff need to report to work in-person throughout the pandemic, while others were put on mandatory telework. We’ve now brought the best of in-person work and remote work together to create a more resilient and efficient workforce ready to continue to deliver on our mission. 

Simultaneous to the pandemic emergency response, the TPU Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) with an all-hazards annex was finalized and distributed to staff. This plan will guide our continued development and strengthening of our emergency preparedness and resilience—a key lesson we learned from three years of an order of emergency. 

Enhanced the customer experience 

As a publicly-owned utility since 1893, our focus is always on our customers and ensuring the safety, reliability, and affordability of our services to those most in need. We operate entirely on the funds we collect from our services, not from taxes, and our operations are designed around the highest public good, not profit.  

We care about our customer experience and have introduced enhancements to customer self-serve channels including updating the MyAccount portal, enabling customers to do things like choose billing dates, request move in/move out service, and register for paperless billing. Customers enrolled in paperless billing increased to nearly 35 percent, or more than 50,000, of our total customers, far surpassing the target goal of 20 percent set in 2019 when our enrollment was less than 13 percent. 

Kept costs down 

As stewards of one of our community’s most vital resources, Tacoma Public Utilities is focused on ensuring the long-term safety and quality of our services for generations of customers to come. Despite the challenges posed by pandemic workplace disruption, Tacoma Public Utilities joined the Western Energy Imbalance Market (WEIM) on-time and under-budget. WEIM allows utilities like ours to buy and sell power close to the time electricity is consumed and gives system operators real-time visibility across neighboring grids. The result improves balancing supply and demand at a lower cost.  

In our Tacoma Water division, we installed new electric vehicle charging stations at the Water Distribution building dock and added new hybrid vans to its pool. The conversion of a significant portion of our fleet to include EVs helps meet our 2022 Resource Conservation and Climate Plan goal to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. A total of 15 hybrid EV service vans are now in service in the Maintenance and Construction division. 

 Tacoma Rail was able to keep costs down securing a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant for battery electric locomotives and charging infrastructure for $3.6 million, which also helps makes strides toward environmental sustainability. 

 Ending the difficult chapter of COVID-19’s impact to our community in 2022 helps us continue to find innovative ways to respond to the complex challenges of the future. I believe we’ve come through these past three years in a stronger position than ever, ready to provide power, water, and rail service to meet our community’s growing needs for years to come.